With yesterdays news that BioWare are asking the community to decide on whether the next Mass Effect is a sequel or a prequel, I just want to slow down for a moment and make a heartfelt, impassioned plea to BioWare on behalf of some people out there; please, we do love you but… neither, thanks.
Dear BioWare (or is it EA now? I don’t really know!),
I want to tell you first of all that you have been in my life now for a very long time. I remember with fondness Baldur’s Gate, MDK2, Neverwinter Nights and Jade Empire. Even though your recent output has been divisive enough to cause much harm to your former credibility, some of us remember and cling onto the good old days. We want to believe in you. We really do.
So allow me for a moment to talk about wanting to canvas the Mass Effect community – one which you yourselves divided with the endings to Mass Effect 3 – for their opinions on whether the next Mass Effect should be a prequel or a sequel. Even if you could get a clear, decisive answer to this question, may I ask what exactly you intend to do with the information once it has been collated? And to what benefit would it be to actually move forward with either scenario in hand?
I loved Mass Effect, I liked Mass Effect 2 and I was okay with Mass Effect 3. I will say I thought #3 was rushing far too fast to a conclusion but I appreciate as someone who writes the difficulty in coming to a conclusion in a piece like that. There was never any real way to please everyone – there never is a way to please everyone, trying can lead to you being quite lonely in the end after all. But you did end it. Part of me wishes you hadn’t gone and done that convoluted enhanced endings thing because by doing that, you effectively made creating a sequel a lot, LOT harder than it perhaps should have been. There was potential in the original for… something. A glimmer of a chance for hope, for a continued adventure. I can’t see a sequel working as a result. The endings were quite… final. I don’t really understand where else you can take this story without undermining the trilogy.
Equally, as much as I found the lore in Mass Effect quite brilliant, what would a prequel entail? I am all for the discovery of the Mass Relay; the first tentative steps of the human race into the big void of space, and the troubles that went with it, including the First Contact War. But really, will it enhance what has already been made? Or does the creation of a prequel indicate more clearly to everyone that you painted yourselves into an inescapable corner with the Mass Effect 3 endings, a place where you require the distraction of a prequel to get out of the bind you have found yourselves in? The cynical part of me would go with the latter. The fan in me so desperately wants it to be the former. But we can’t really know until you put it out there, by which point it might be too late to go back on it.
So here is my choice; neither, thanks.
Mass Effect has been a lovely ride but I think Mass Effect 3 proved that it had to end at some point. You couldn’t ride on this coaster forever, and trying to clamour back into it makes me worry about you, BioWare. Is this because you want to continue Mass Effect as an artistic enterprise, or because it is one of the few commercial properties you have left that isn’t in tatters? If it is the former, then I want to continue on and ask if you learned anything from the kurfuffle that was the Mass Effect 3 ending fiasco? Here’s the problem; your fans want you to tell the story. You have to tell it to them. If you change it for them, then they will want to change more, and more. At some point, you can lose control of your own artistic endeavour and it becomes an exercise in pandering to either the commercialised publisher (EA) or the entitled consumer. Neither of which reflect very well on you as a company, or the game in question.
If you don’t know where to take Mass Effect, here’s my advice; don’t work on it until you DO know where to take it next. You have other work to be doing, right? Trying to salvage The Old Republic from ruination, and the reformation of Dragon Age after the limited copy-paste maps of Dragon Age 2. Better yet, have you thought about trying a new IP altogether? I know EA aren’t exactly the most accommodating of publishers but if you still have any power left in the relationship, surely getting them to bankroll a completely new title can’t be that silly?
The reason I suggest this is more as an image reparation job than a fiscal renovation. BioWare, your image and it must be said, your strength is in the relationship you have with us, your users. This is why EA wanted you. They wanted that power, that influence. Over time, that crown has slipped but what would be interesting for you is to draw a line under it all. Everything. The Old Republic, Dragon Age, Mass Effect – all done. Separate entities. And instead start a new IP, something you believe that your fans would want, be attracted to and be willing to pay money for. It would psychologically allow many of us to move on from the past few years of disappointment and look instead at the possibility of a bright new tomorrow. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Just like in the movies, we meet up and we embrace, walking off into the sunset having learned from our mistakes and hopeful for the future. Once we are reunited that way, EA will struggle to topple you. They wouldn’t dare risk the wrath of a loyal userbase that has rediscovered its passion for you. It would be professional suicide to do so.
I don’t want you to think I am ungrateful however; I have enjoyed my time with your past games and even though I admit I called Dragon Age 2 “a half-arsed job”, it wasn’t completely without merit. You still entertain, intrigue and amuse. But it’s not quite in the same way you used to. Finding a place for us to meet outside the already-done ideas might help us get reacquainted and come to deal with our differences, and the strengths you clearly do have. But don’t rely on Mass Effect. Don’t use it as a crutch. I have mourned it, and I must move on. We all should. Even YOU should.
Leave a rose upon its grave for now. It hurts to let the ones you love go, but there is no sense lingering over this one. The world moves on, is moving on, and you need to move with it or risk being left behind in the graveyard, still pining for the past success and glory of your series whilst others have surpassed and reinvented the genre. I don’t mean to be insensitive. I just don’t believe you will survive if you stay in the pouring rain for that long. We all loved Mass Effect in different ways and at different times. Take that with you. Keep that in your heart. Mass Effect was loved, is loved, and remains loved as long as we remember the good it did.
And when you are ready, let’s go somewhere new. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or swish. It could be an old isometric-style RPG for all I care. Let’s just go and start a clean slate elsewhere.
I am ready when you are.
Please don’t keep me waiting.